Photos by Alejandro JSM Chavez

It took 500 years, but the effort to correct history is finally being realized. 

The likeness of Christopher Columbus is no longer welcome in Los Angeles.  

On Saturday, Nov. 10, hundreds gathered at Grand Park to witness the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue.  

Prayers were offered in the four directions, songs and acknowledgement were given to the creator, the land and their ancestors. A few people looked up to note the hawk and the crow circling together flying over the gathering, while most stayed focused on the ceremony.

“We’re making history today,” said Rudy Ortega Jr., chair, Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission during a series of speeches before the removal of the statue. “We are here today and we are all working to get the truth out, and we are educating people along the way. “

Signs were placed near the statue that documented Columbus’ record of brutality and genocide.

Following the blessing and ceremony, the crowd that included LA’s diverse community of native tribes sang, and the crowd cheered to beating drums as LA county crews placed straps on the statue, lifted it onto a truck, covered it, and drove it away.

Young people jumped on top of the vacated pedestal, some with fists raised and took photos. 

LA has the largest urban Native American Indian population in the country and for those who had fought hard to see this day, it was very moving.

“We are healing and working through this very complicated history,” said Chrissie Castro, vice chair of  LA’s City/County Native American Indian Commission, who fought back tears.  

“This is a very emotional moment. We stand here as members of a strong community and our ancestors who fought like hell so that we could be here, people who have been fighting for this for generations,” said Castro, a member of the Navajo nation, who referenced the “intergenerational trauma” that they’ve suffered.  

“I think the biggest brunt of this myth that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America falls on the shoulders of our children,” said Castro, who shared a story of a child who hid under his desk while his teacher told the Columbus story. “He had a beautiful head of hair, but cut off his braid and when he went home that day, he told his mother he didn’t want to be Indian anymore.”   

Ortega — president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, the first people of what are now the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys — also made an announcement earlier this month of an effort to remove the Maclay Street signs in the city of San Fernando.  

Members of the commission were instrumental in changing the Columbus holiday to Indigenous People’s Day. 

They object to the public display of statues and street signs that celebrate those who committed genocide against native people, and the names and mascots of sports teams [Washington Redskins] that negatively depict native people.   

Ortega said doing away with the statue allows Native Americans to “reclaim who we are” and “brings the truth out” about the atrocities committed by Columbus and those who followed him. 

“These are our ancestral lands, but because of the victors who wrote the history, they left us off and wrote the wrongful stories about who we are.”

The statue has been placed in storage, and there will be discussions about what should be done with the statue. But its public resurgence in Los Angeles is unlikely.

The statue was located near the Stanley Mosk Courthouse between Hill Street and Grand Avenue in Grand Park across the street from City Hall. The statue of Christopher Columbus, standing atop a 3-foot polished granite pedestal, was donated to the county by Francesco Perotti in 1973. It was later placed in Grand Park.

The removal of the statue was the culmination of a series of steps that included the Los Angeles City Council vote in 2017 to  replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.  

With this move, Los Angeles city and county became the largest jurisdictions to officially modify their administrative codes and replace the official holiday. Los Angeles county has the largest urban Indigenous population in the entire country.

Members of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Commission were instrumental in changing the Columbus holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day.

“This is a milestone to celebrate,” Los Angeles Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said of the removal of the statue.

With much public support from LA’s native tribes, O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Native American Tribe, introduced the motion in city council to do away with the Columbus Day holiday.  

Italian Americans fought against the city’s decision to change the designation of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. They argued the Columbus holiday celebrated their culture as immigrants to the United States.

The National Christopher Columbus Association also insisted he was not responsible for the genocide committed by the Europeans who followed him.

No Columbus supporters were present Saturday as the statue was removed.

Anti-Columbus activists maintain the Italian explorer’s role in history was romanticized and inaccurate, and he waged a campaign of cruelty and genocide against native people — first in the Caribbean Islands where he first landed, and later in Central and South America.  Despite the misinformation taught in schools, Columbus was never in North America.  

A growing number of US cities since the 1990s have replaced Columbus Day with a holiday honoring indigenous people. They include San Fernando; San Francisco; Denver; Seattle; Minneapolis; Anchorage; Phoenix; Portland, Oregon; and Albuquerque. A handful of states, from South Dakota and Hawaii to Vermont and Minnesota, have done the same. 

Irka Mateo, a Grammy-nominated artist from the Dominican Republic who traces her heritage to the native Tainos in the Caribbean island, said she experienced a mixture of feelings at seeing the removal of the statue.

“A lot of sadness for what our ancestors suffered because of him and a lot of happiness,” she said. “This is justice for the indigenous tribes of America.”

 Andrew Morales of the Gabrieleno Tonga tribe who inhabited the San Gabriel Valley, the first Native Americans in Los Angeles area to come face to face with Spanish settlers, said he was “lost for words.”

“I was so pumped, so excited, emotional. Something great has been achieved,” Morales said.

“This is the start of a new day for our people. We’re going to erase it from this landscape,” chimed in Shannon Rivers of the Akimel O’odham Native American tribe from Arizona.

“We are here marching forward strong, we don’t even say his name anymore, because now he is gone,” Ortega said.

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